Several months ago someone asked me whether Christians were trying to win me back. I confessed at that time that there hadn’t been very many. I was surprised and a little disappointed. I suggested that it might be because I was still in that difficult in between space. I suspected that everyone was giving me space to take this journey. I also guessed that when I did begin to say more clearly what my convictions are that more people would weigh in. I had no idea how right I would be about that.
A day or so ago Hemant Mehta wrote about the vicious attacks that some Christians have leveled at me. To be honest I hadn’t even seen that blog or those comments until Mehta pointed them out. But there have been others in my network of associates as well. They are usually not of the “you’re going to hell” variety as much as the, “awww, I can see how angry and hurt you are. Won’t you just come back to Jesus so he can heal you?” variety. Here are a couple of zingers:
I see your face and I see a very sad and hurt man. Soon you will feel the emptyness the world feels, the lolyness [sic], the depression… you do not need to feel ashamed God will not take into account this 1 or 2 years of igorance [sic].
Ryan, if for nothing else than the sake of two people, I would encourage you to turn away from the glorification of self and return to the glorification of Christ. The two people are your daughters. They need a praying father.
These past two days we have been reminded that the judgmentalism born of fundamentalist Christianity can be deadly. I had been avoiding the story of Leelah Alcorn’s tragic death since it came out. I knew the basic outline but I could not bring myself to see her eyes. Tonight I ended that embargo and sat in my bed and wept. Ideas have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are fatal.
But this is only part of the story. The overwhelming majority of Christians who have communicated with me directly have either been vocally supportive of my journey and/or apologetic about the way other Christians are treating me. For the record I don’t going around each day feeling mistreated, especially with tragic news like suicides of LGBTQ teens, but it’s nice to have Christians take some responsibility for their people, even though these good folks are not the offending parties.
What’s more, my real life friends who are Christians have all been enthusiastic and supportive, even as they struggle with their own doubts. You know who you are, beginning with Rebecca Pratt, and I cannot thank you enough for being the amazing, accepting people that you are.
What I love most about how this year has turned out is the way it has given voice to a much larger conversation. I know there are places where people can process their doubts and loss of faith, as it’s happening, but there aren’t that many. Organized religion shuns that sort of thing, in general, and atheists are understandably allergic to organized religion-ish gatherings. That so many Christians have been open minded and used my story to think about their own is deeply gratifying.
The media loves a good story about hateful religious types beating up on marginal people (and let’s face it, religious people give the media a vast array of material to choose from). But I think it’s even more important to say that most Christians are not being defensive and judgmental. Most admit that aspects of their faith are problematic, that they don’t know how to reconcile elements of their lives with the teachings of the Bible and that Christianity is hopelessly bound up with exclusion, violence, nationalism and consumerism. Most appreciate my journey and think it is valuable.
The world would be a better place if there were more of these Christians who were engaged in the public dialogue about religion in our society. Rather than ceding the public square to the most vocal, hatful voices, I hope Christians of good-will will continue to stand in the gap and help to hold that space for people in turmoil.